Home>Editorial>Mysteries>The Mysterious Cult of a Castle in New Jersey

The Mysterious Cult of a Castle in New Jersey

Brent Swancer October 31, 2020

Out in the scenic woodland countryside of the border of Montclair and Verona, New Jersey, is a sprawling, 9,000-square-foot Rhineland-style castle, which looms over the surrounding area atop a high hill like something out of a gothic fairy tale. The imposing estate features countless stained glass windows, 30 oak paneled rooms, six fireplaces, an expansive octagonal rose garden, a small chapel with a soaring cathedral ceiling, and a creepy feeling pervading the entirety of it all that makes it feel like a distinctly haunted place out of a dream world, a sort of Dracula’s castle.  Called “Kip’s Castle,” or simply “The Castle,” the quaint estate was constructed for the textile magnate Frederic Ellsworth Kip and his wife Charlotte Bishop Williams Kip, and between the years of 1902 and 1905 it was painstakingly and meticulously crafted stone by stone from materials imported directly from Europe. In later decades the family would move out, and the castle sat there abandoned for some time before it was purchased in 1980 by an Indian swami by the name of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, and this is where the estate’s history would get very strange and colorful indeed. And here we have the tale of an eerie castle on a hill, strange rumors of bizarre rituals, and a mysterious cult that grew out of control.

Rajneesh had made quite a notorious name for himself in his native India. Having started with only 7 followers in a hovel in a town called Poona, by 1974 he had managed to grow rapidly into a prominent guru with over 200,000 followers based in 400 centers around the world, and raking in millions upon millions of dollars while he was at it, mostly by receiving all of his followers’ earthly possessions, as was required by his “religion.” Being the “rich man’s guru,” as he called himself, Rajneesh was not at all humble about any of this, and his title “Bhagwan” actually translates to “God.” Although he was in hot water for charges of tax evasion in India, as well as outrage for disrespecting and attacking Hinduism and for his group’s controversial beliefs that sex could be channeled into healing energy, he nevertheless sought to constantly expand his operation, and in 1980 purchased Kip’s Castle in order to gain a foot hold in the United States, boldly saying at the time, “I am the Messiah America has been waiting for.” He arrived in 1981, moved into his imposing gothic castle on the hill, drove around town in a flashy white Rolls Royce, and immediately got to work doing all manner of weird and cultish things.

BhagwanBhagwan Rajneesh

The eccentric Rajneesh immediately had the entire interior of the estate painted white, and destroyed all of the beautiful stained glass windows in order to meet his imagined humble aesthetic, and the beautiful wood floors were also covered in linoleum. His gold and jewel encrusted Rolls Royce was also custom outfitted with bulletproof armor plating, a television, VCR, and telephone, as well as a James Bond style mechanism that could shoot out tear gas canisters. The group wasted no time in immediately posting an advertisement in several local papers and Time Magazine that announced “Sex! Never repress it! Search all the nooks and corners of your sexuality. It will be more fun.” This had people on alert right off the bat, as it gave the impression that this was some weird sex cult that had moved into town, something that Rajneesh denied, saying that their presence there was merely as a base of operations for the purpose of distributing literature and video tapes to followers. Even so, the rumors began to fly that the cult was up to doing drugs, having bizarre rituals, blaring “goat sacrificing music,” conducting orgies up in their castle lair, and experimenting with strange forms of meditation, psychotherapy, and sex magic. It was also widely whispered that the cult was planning a massive rally to take over the entire area, and locals complained that the cultists were leaving red and orange dye, which was the color worn by the Bhagwan’s followers, in the washing machines at a local laundromat. Some stories were spookier still, such as rumors that the cultists would chase away trespassers or that they were even attacking people. One witness would tell Weird New Jersey of his own experience:

Growing up I heard stories about monks, cults, or even vampires, living in Kip’s Castle. When I was a junior in high school, 6 of us girls drove up to Kip’s in a Datsun. As we approached the castle, a man who was walking like a zombie stopped our car and asked us what we were doing. We told him we were lost and couldn’t find Bloomfield Ave. and we lived in Montclair. That was stupid because EVERYONE who lives in Montclair knows where Bloomfield Ave is! He went to grab the door handle and we took off up the hill. There was nowhere to turn around, so we drove up the castle driveway. As we were turning around, without power steering, about 60 people came out of the castle, all walking the same way the man down the hill was. It was like Night of the Living Dead! There were kids, men, and women all dressed in black cloaks. It was the scariest thing I have ever experienced.

At the timeAt the time there were rumored to be between 80 and 200 of the Bhagwan’s followers living at the castle, and this raised a lot of concerns in this quiet, conservative community. One local would tell The New York Times at the time, “People are panic-stricken. We are very concerned about our property values, our children and about this becoming an international headquarters for a free-sex cult.” These rumors stirred up quite a bit of animosity towards Rajneesh and his followers, with vandalism to their property a frequent occurrence, yet still the group grew to the point that there were now simply too many devotees in the castle and the surrounding town. The cult then purchased more than 100 square miles of ranchland in rural Wasco County, Oregon to start up a new commune, and meditation centers for their teachings were popping up all over the place. Devotees continued to come in as well, including perhaps most famously Shannon Jo Ryan, who was the daughter of Representative Leo J. Ryan, better known for getting killed by cultists at the compound of Jim Jones during the 1978 Jonestown massacre than for anything he ever did in actual politics. Business was booming for the cult, as for many people it represented an ideal lifestyle.

As all this was going on, the commune in Oregon, boldly called “Rajneeshpurum” in Rajneesh’s typical modesty, was being built up at a fast rate, possessing an airport of its own, a shopping mall, restaurant chain, beauty salons, and even its own police force and artificial lake. It also began expanding into its own functioning city, incorporating outlying towns and taking them over with followers who moved there in droves to outnumber the original residents by a large margin, and Rajneesh would also move there to be elected to six of the seven town council seats. Their wealth also grew exponentially, with the cult owning massive amounts of property and Rajneesh amassing a fleet of 85 Rolls Royces. By the end of 1982, most of the cult lived in this immense commune and left Kip’s Castle, but their story was not over yet.

Kip’s CastleKip’s Castle

The downfall of Rajneesh began with his second in command, Sheela, who was, let’s just say a bit extreme. She committed arson while trying to burn down the Wasco County planning office, attempted to poison local officials, and also contaminated the food of non-cultists with Salmonella bacteria, all of which brought the law breathing down their necks. Sheela was finally arrested and convicted of attempted murder after trying to kill Rajneesh’s personal physician. The law was still not satisfied, and in an effort to rid the area of the group, they would press forward to arrest Rajneesh on 35 counts of felony immigration violation, for which he received a 10-year suspended sentence and a $400,000 fine, and he then promptly sought asylum in numerous countries. After being denied by everyone, he escaped to India in defeat and would die there of a heart attack not long after.

After this the city he had made returned to normal, now called Antelope, and there is very little left to show that such a frighteningly powerful cult was ever there. As for Kip’s Castle, it never was inhabited again, and it lay abandoned and derelict until renovation work was carried out in 2005 and it ultimately became part of the historic Essex County Park System. In the end, the cult of Bhagwan Rajneesh has passed into the mists of time, but it remains a curious case of a cult that got surprisingly huge in its time, and it is an odd little historical oddity worth taking a look at.  Mysterious Universe

The Mysterious Silbury Hill, Crop Circles, and a Bizarre Alien Encounter

Brent Swancer October 30, 2020

Located out in the rural countryside near Avebury, in the English county of Wiltshire, is an enigmatic ancient man-made mound that juts up out of the earth and is called Silbury Hill. Measuring 131 feet high, 548 feet in diameter, composed of 324,000 cubic yards of earth and covering 5 acres, the prehistoric grass-covered artificial chalk mound is among the largest of its kind, and is more like a hulking chalk pyramid more than just a mound. The origins and purpose of Silbury Hill have been lost to the mists of time, debated and discussed to this day, and it is a place steeped in legends of arcane Druid rituals, magical powers, and lost treasure buried within its bowels. It truly adds to the mystery of this area, which includes the stone circle at Avebury and the famous Stonehenge not far away, yet some of the more modern legends have it being a hotspot for UFO phenomena, crop circles, and the location of a very strange alien encounter indeed.

The site has over the years attracted its fair share of odd tales. Silbury Hill is said to lie upon a “ley line” which is a supposed sort of vein of energy coursing through the earth, and crop circles have frequently been found in the surrounding countryside. Considering this, it is perhaps no surprise that the area has its fair share of UFO sightings as well, and indeed Silbury Hill has long been known as a hotspot, with some of the most intense activity in not only the country, but in all of Europe. On some occasions, these UFO encounters can be pretty wild, and one of these happened as recently as 2009.

Silbury HillSilbury Hill

In July of that year, an unnamed off duty Wiltshire police sergeant was driving along the A4 expressway right by Silbury Hill when he noticed in the early morning light a crop circle that had not been there earlier. However, even stranger than this was the fact that as he drew closer he could notice that there were three figures standing around the circle, as if inspecting it, very tall and apparently dressed in some sort of white coveralls, and the officer could see that they had long, blonde hair, although their faces were concealed by hoods. There was nothing at this point that was particularly odd about the scene other than the crop circle, and the policeman at first assumed that the men were forensic officers. He tried to just continue on his drive but things were about to get very weird, indeed.

As he passed even closer, he claims that he could hear a buzzing drone like static electricity, and this made him stop his car to check out what was going on. He walked to within a distance of around 400 yards of the figures and he even called out to them. The figures ignored him and the static buzzing seemed to get louder, until it was reverberating and echoing through his head. He could now discern that the noise seemed to be coming from a particular spot within that crop circle, and the crop was swaying in that spot even though there was no wind. He managed to overcome his urge to run, and as he got closer the figures looked to him and then began to run away with superhuman speed. He said he tried to run after them and could not possibly keep up. He would tell crop circle researcher Andrew Russell:

They ran faster than any man I have ever seen. I’m no slouch but they were moving so fast. I looked away for a second and when I looked back they were gone. I then got scared. The noise was still around but I got an uneasy feeling and headed for the car. For the rest of the day I had a pounding headache I couldn’t shift.

He madeHe made a full report to his department, but when media contacted them for further comment they would say, “The police officer was apparently off duty when this happened so we have no comment to make because it is a personal not a police matter.” Interestingly, the very next night would bring reports of an unmarked black helicopter patrolling the area over the crop circle for over 3 hours before flying off. When Russell himself made his way out to investigate the crop circle, he found that it was remarkably fresh, and had probably been formed not too long before the sergeant arrived on the scene. In the end, the case has never been solved and remains a mystery. Cases like this have served to make Silbury Hill a sort of mecca for UFO hunters, to the point that the droves of curiosity seekers coming here have been trampling down and damaging the mound.

What is it about Silbury Hill and why does it draw such strangeness to it and cases such as this one? There have been a lot of ideas thrown about, many of which are firmly in the world of the paranormal. One is that this place serves as some sort of energy vortex and portal between worlds, a thin spot through which strange forces can move back and forth. Another has been proposed that Silbury Hill may just be one of the many similar pyramid-like structures around the world, which could have been energy-creating beacons by which in this case ancient Britons communicated with aliens. Perhaps the very structure of it somehow harnesses earth energies in order to create a link between these aliens and the people who once inhabited this place. Whatever it is going on here, it is quite strange, indeed, and may be forever beyond our ability to comprehend.  Mysterious Universe